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What Nate Silver Can Teach Us About Leadership


For me, one of the most striking sub-plots of the presidential election was Nate Silver’s rise as a new style of political analyst. Silver’s data-driven approach is representative of a larger trend taking place across industries that is reshaping the role leaders play in their companies.

In case you missed it, The New York Times’ Silver ignored the conventional political wisdom that saw the presidential race as neck and neck. Instead, he used careful analysis of polling data to create a model that showed President Obama as an overwhelming favorite to win. Many highly paid pundits loudly dismissed Silver’s model because it conflicted with what they felt in their guts. When Silver’s analysis proved to be spot on, we now know who had the clearest view of the election.

Silver’s success highlights a new approach to decision-making that is sweeping across industries. Today, many of the most innovative companies are transitioning to an experiment driven culture, where it is not the opinion of the highest paid person in the room that drives key decisions, but the data derived from experiments.

Recently I posted my views on this new kind of management where you make decisions through experiment and the best idea can prove itself.

In this new data-driven world, the role of leader is changing. Here are three of my keys to smart leadership in this new landscape.

  • Champion a Grand Challenge. At Intuit these range from improving the bottom line of small businesses by 20 percent to improving the financial lives of farmers in India.
  • Create a Culture of Experimentation. Install and instill the experiment systems and culture, so that people can invent and test the ways to solve the challenge.
  • Enable Ideas to Prove Themselves. Savor the surprises of these experiments and replace politics, PowerPoint and persuasion with data-driven insights.

All of which goes back to what Nate Silver did this past election. His data-driven success will probably forever change the way we predict elections. Today, as other industries transition to the age of big data, the challenge for leaders is to build cultures that harness data to deliver insights and power growth.

(Photo:Flickr, jdlasica)

This post also appeared on LinkedIn. Follow Brad Smith and other thought leaders on LinkedIn.

Brad Smith

Intuit President and CEO Brad Smith has his head in the cloud. He’s the driving force behind Intuit’s transformation to connected services. When not spending time with his wife and two daughters, Smith plays the saxophone and guitar and practices karate. Don’t expect him to quit his day job. Follow him on LinkedIn and on Twitter @IntuitBrad

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